Kingsport finalist for Innovations in American Governance Awards

Rick Wagner • May 18, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Harvard University may be poised to name Kingsport’s higher education initiatives among the best of the best and most innovative in the nation.

The Model City is among 16 finalists competing for Innovations in American Governance Awards from the Ivy League school.

Kingsport’s program is among the finalists in the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation competition at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. The initial 600 applications were narrowed to 50 semifinalists and now the 16 finalists. Programs represent innovations at the city, county, state and federal levels of government.

Six winners will be announced in September. The top three finishers each receive $100,000, and the next three receive $50,000 each.

On May 27, representatives from each finalist program — in Kingsport’s case Mayor Dennis Phillips and Northeast State Technical Community College President Bill Locke — will make a presentation before the National Selection Committee. Held in the Harvard Kennedy School Forum, the event is free and open to the public.

Presentations also will be available on the Ash Institute YouTube Channel.

Phillips said when you get the attention of Harvard, that certainly commands respect.

“Being in the top 16 means that we get to go to Harvard and make a presentation, and if we’re selected as one of top three, it would be $100,000 for Kingsport,” Phillips said. “But I think more important is the notoriety it brings to education in Kingsport and education in the state of Tennessee and how innovative we’ve been.”

Many winning programs act as harbingers for reform and new legislation and often serve as the basis for case studies and curricula at Harvard and institutions worldwide.

“Several finalists provide solutions to revitalize their local economies,” according to a Monday news release from Harvard that cited, among others, Kingsport’s higher education initiative.

The release said the Kingsport initiative “revitalized an ailing economy in the northeastern Tennessee city of Kingsport by improving the overall education level of its labor force.”

Morris Baker, a grant writer for Kingsport, recently said the city initiative dates back to a November 1999 economic summit that came after Eastman Chemical Co. announced the layoff of 1,200 workers.

Out of the summit came the Educate and Grow scholarship program — started by Kingsport in 2001 and later expanded by Sullivan County. It provides tuition assistance for two years at Northeast State for qualifying high school graduates.

Another idea from the summit was the creation of a downtown satellite location for NSTCC, the genesis for the Academic Village.

The Regional Center for Applied Technology opened for business in September 2002, instructing students in computer science, business management and office administration skills.

Then came the Regional Center for Health Professions, which houses all of NSTCC’s medical programs and opened in the fall of 2008 to be followed by the Kingsport Center for Higher Education, a facility to open this fall and where students can earn selected four-year degrees from Carson-Newman College, King College, Lincoln Memorial University and the University of Tennessee.

Two other facilities are the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing to open in August with help from Eastman and Domtar and the Pal Barger School of Automotive Technology set to open in 2010 downtown.

Additional information about the Ash Institute is available at www.ashinstitute.harvard.edu.

Times-News staff writer Matthew Lane contributed to this report.

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